Late Late Nite: Goodbye, Sydney Pollack
I remember flipping channels one insomniac night when I was a kid to discover This Property Is Condemned, and it’s haunted me ever since. From the opening frames of Willie (Mary Badham of To Kill a Mockingbird fame) in her older sister’s tattered evening gown carrying a broken doll and walking the railroad tracks in high heeled shoes, it perfectly evokes Tennessee Williams’ whole steamy, decaying, Gothic, overripe vision of the South. You can feel the stifling summer heat in each frame of James Wong Howe’s cinematography, and Natalie Woods dazzles in the role of hothouse flower Alva Star. There was something primal about her battle for dominance with her mother (Kate Reid) and I remember thinking that if this was what adulthood was all about, I was completely unprepared.
Pollack had a dark streak that didn’t always wear well in Hollywood but I always appreciated it. It manifested itself in movies like They Shoot Horses, Don’t They and his performance in Husbands and Wives. Hard to say whether it abandoned him over time or he abandoned it out of a desire for commercial viability, but I found a lot of his early work deeply affecting. Now that he’s gone, not many filmmakers capable of that kind of depth and complexity working in the Hollywood system.